Andrew Martin: Marco Polo in plagiarism scandal

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The Independent Online

New research suggests that Marco Polo, supposedly the first Western chronicler of the Far East, actually never went there. That dramatic story of how he became an envoy of Kublai Khan, roving on dangerous missions through Burma, China and India? All cobblers, says Professor Daniele Petrella, of Naples University. He suggests that Polo never sailed further than the Black Sea ports, where he met people who had been out East. No doubt under the guise of the innocent enquiry, "Been anywhere nice on your holidays then?" he appropriated their accounts, but made mistakes. For example, Polo's description of the Mongol fleet mentions ships with five masts, but Professor Petrella's excavations in Japan show they had only three. I suppose some academic will soon be telling us that Marco Polo never even invented Polo mints.

According to Selfridges, many of the record number of foreign visitors to London this summer have their minds set on Christmas, which could be why they keep stepping in front of my bike on Oxford Street. Accordingly, the store has just opened its Christmas shop, weeks earlier than usual (it usually waits until the more traditional "Christmassy" time of late August). "Christmas comes earlier every year," says Geraldine James, buying manager at Selfridges, but surely there is a limit to this trend. I mean if you began preparing for the one after next on 24 December this year, you might look suspiciously like someone starting late for Christmas 2011, rather than early for 2012. To confront this problem, Selfridges is thinking of offering "a capsule Christmas collection" throughout the year. Would that include cyanide capsules, I wonder, for those of us less keen on the festivities?

Gary Wetson was told he could not carry on to a bus a 4ft by 4ft abstract painting he had just bought at a village near Stroud, Gloucestershire. "The driver looked at it and told me it was a health and safety hazard." A spokesman for bus company Stagecoach has admitted its driver was wrong. Indeed, how many people have been killed by abstract paintings? Or even slightly injured? But a painting of a broken bottle or a pair of scissors ... now that's different matter.